Sorry Alex, I'm going to the mall!

Trip Start Jun 19, 2008
Trip End Sep 04, 2008

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Where I stayed
Wake Up! Cairo Hostel
overnight train

Flag of Egypt  ,
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Due to technical difficulties, I ended up not going to Alex this morning.  It would have been really cool but rushed at the same time anyway.  I am just glad I did not buy the tickets ahead of time! (it's always about money huh).  Now I can buy myself something nice with the money, muhaha.  I did not really have anything to do in the morning/early afternoon.  Because I had been constantly on the go for the last 4 days, it felt weird to just sit around.  I attempted to read the required book for History of Islam class- without much success.  The people who were here when I first arrived are all gone now.  It was a good group; I'll miss those nights.  They made me feel completely normal about traveling to Egypt and Istanbul.  I mean, they were going to Kenya and Syria and other off-the-beaten-path places.

To escape the heat, I suggested going to see a movie.  You get to chill for an hour or two in the nicely airconditioned theater.  Movie theaters are abundant in Cairo and vary quite a bit in quality, ranging from a ghetto dollar theater where kids go while skipping class (5EGP a pop) to a luxurious theater at the mall (30EGP).  I decided to roll high class and go to the mall.  It's like hitting two birds with one stone. The mall was in Nasser City, about 15 minutes away  rideby cab.  It definitely seemed like a new part of the city: the roads were in a grid pattern, the buildings more uniformed and organized.  I thought I saw a pyramid and was kind of confused, but it turned out to be a monument for President Nasser who was assassinated during a military parade.  Salma taught me a brief history of the difference between Nasser and Sadat.  Socialists vs Islamists, basically.

Salma said this mall is the biggest and nicest mall she has ever been to, and it was no exaggeration.  It was so colossal and luxurious!  We had to go through a security gate to join the liberal, wealthy atmosphere.  People dressed in western fashion were common.  Many girls were clanking their heels, showing off their hair, arms, and ankles- they wre fierce!  And the stores... the stores!  All the major clothing stores that you would find at an outlet in the U.S. were here, plus much, much more!  Half of the stores must have been restaurants.  Eateries that are usually a quick stop in the mall food court, like Sbarros, were full-blown restaurants here.  People casually smoked indoors, while walking around the mall or sitting down to eat.  For the first hour (yes, the first of many hours), I could not get over the variety of the stores packed into this 9-story mall. You name it, they got it.  Even Macaroni Grill and On the Border!  We did go to the movie theater, but I did not see a movie interesting enough to deviate from this holy grail of shopping.  Clothes are expensive in Egypt.  They are definitely in the three digits.  Strangely, I did not see many people carrying a shopping bag... in fact, very few people were carrying anything.  (I became one of those few people because I bought an Egyptian cotton polo shirt from Mobaco!)

My eyes must be getting conservative because I now gasp when I see a girl wearing a sleeveless or tightly embracing her beau.  This reminds me of a conversation I had with Salma:
Me: When a guy and a girl hold hands, does that mean they are married?"
Sal: Most likely they are engaged or newly wed without babies."
Me: Then what do married couples do?
Sal: Not even look at each other.

Haha! So sad! There is definitely an interesting relationship between the oppression of sexual expression and experimentation and the prevalence of men's sleaziness and women's promiscuity.  I saw Saudi girls pass by (you can tell Saudi girls apart because everything except their eyes are covered in black, and they have flashy handbags) and wondered about them.  Is Egypt a place for them to be free of the Islamic law that dominates their country?

We walked around for a while, taking the smart escalator up, the glass elevator down, and the spiral staircase down some more.  I felt like I was in Dubai!  I have never been there nor do I know what it's exactly like, but that is how I felt anyhow.  Then again, Cairo is too bustling and great of a city not to have a place like this.  Going back to the wealthy-less conservative-less sleazy theory, this place catered to the wealthier population obviously, and I got a lot less attention here.  People would look at me but wouldn't blatantly stare, follow me or say nonsense.  These guys have seen foreigners; they have seen girls in bikinis.  No biggie.

I came back to the hostel around 8:15pm to take a shower and get my massive backpack ready for tonight's travel to ASWAN!  I arranged a 3-day tour in the upper-Nile valley for the price of a nice pair of jeans.  I was hesitating because it did not include entrance fees, which adds up to a lot even with so much student discount, and because I have never done a package tour by myself.  I trust the hostel guys Peter and Hasan though, and I'm stoked about getting to see Abu Simbel! 

The 10pm overnight train from Cairo takes me to Aswan.  I'm actually sitting here typing this entry.  I had no problem finding the station and platform, but it took me a while to find Wagon 7.  I think I got impatient and worked up because of all the weight on my back.  I was very, very happy to find that my seat was a singleton by the window!  The seats on the left were paired and the ones on the right were singletons.  I had so much room that I could have probably put my backpack next to my legs.  The seats were so comfortable and reclined to a ridiculously wide angle.  You can also open the arm of the chair and pull out a small table.  I think the 2nd class seats also have a good amount of leg room, but you have to sit in a row of three un-reclining seats.  The toilet in between the two 1st class wagons was not so 1st class.  It rivaled the grimy gas station toilet in the ghettos of Atlanta. 

I was surprised that there weren't more foreigners on board; I thought I'd be in a segregated wagon for foreigners.  My wagon had only three non-Egyptian people from what I could tell (non-Caucasian too! basically unidentifiable).  I was initially worried about the noise because there were two babies in the wagon plus several loud Egyptian men, but they all became quiet once the train took off (I guess they need sleep too).  I slept so well with a Tylenol PM.  When I woke up, I saw green fields and Africa-esque trees and very sparsely-placed quaint buildings.  Can't wait to get to Aswan!
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